State seeks dismissal of class-action suit challenging rate hikes at Pioneer Homes

Residents of the state-run Pioneer Home in Juneau are part of a class-action lawsuit against the state after a rate hike that affected nearly 500 people in six of the homes.  (Photo by Heather Bryant / KTOO)

State attorneys are asking a Ketchikan judge to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought by three Pioneer Home residents after monthly rates more than doubled: with top tier residents liable to owe $15,000 a month for state-run assisted living.

Attorneys filed a suit in Ketchikan Superior Court on behalf of Pioneer Home residents in Juneau and Ketchikan claiming that dramatic rates increases threaten to bankrupt elderly Alaskans who live in the state-run assisted living homes.

The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an injunction against the rate increases and prevent any residents from being evicted for not paying.

One of the plaintiffs, Ketchikan resident Eileen Casey, is now nearly $100,000 in debt to the facility and administrators have threatened to kick her out of the home, according to court filings.

The state Attorney General’s office’s 12-page answer filed on Dec. 23 doesn’t dispute these facts. Rather, it asks the court to toss the lawsuit on technical grounds by calling into question the plaintiffs’ standing and other factors.

State attorneys also argue that the plaintiff facing eviction hadn’t paid her rent prior to the hike or applied for assistance. It also denies the claim that previous incremental rate increases make a large jump — of around 138 percent in some cases — unfair.

The state’s filing lays out some general avenues for a defense. It could argue that Pioneer Home residents haven’t been harmed by rate increases; it could argue that residents had other options for relief besides suing and it could argue that the plaintiffs are acting in bad faith by challenging their bills in court.

A timeline for the lawsuit remains unclear. In the meantime, the octogenarians and nonagenarians continue to live in Pioneer Homes in Ketchikan and Juneau. They are among the 497 residents in six Pioneer Homes affected by the increases.

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